And these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt... Reuben, Simon, Levi, Judah... And all the souls descendent of Jacob were seventy...

Exodus 1:1-4

Although [G‑d] had already counted them in their lifetime (i.e., in Genesis 46), He again counted them at the time of their death, to express His love for them. For they are like the stars, which He takes out and brings in by number and name; as it is written (Isaiah 40:26): "He takes out their hosts by number, He calls them each by name."


Counting and naming are among love's most powerful expressions. Listen to a child counting his candies, or to a beloved's name on the lips of a lover, and you will know what it means to cherish and revere.

The number and the name retain their poignancy where love's more "passionate" signals no longer apply — or never did. A hug or a kiss are meaningless unless its recipient can sense it and respond. But the act of counting will express our affection also for inanimate objects, and the utterance of a name will trigger a rush of feeling long after its bearer has departed from our world.

As the book of Exodus opens, the twelve sons of Jacob — a fledgling nation's link to the lives of their founding fathers — have passed on, and the Jewish people are entering their first galut, a 210-year period of exile and spiritual displacement. At this point, the Almighty re-affirms his bond with his people by counting and naming them. G‑d is saying: even if the trials to come will deaden your response to Me, my love for you will not falter.

Two Faces of Israel

The count and the name relate to two different — even opposite — aspects of their subject.

Numbers are the ultimate equalizer. The statement "and all the souls descendent of Jacob were seventy" attributes to each an equal standing in the total count. Each of these souls is a unique individual, with his own particular strengths and weaknesses. But in counting them, we underscore their common denominator: the basic fact of their being. On this level, each of the seventy count for no more and no less than "1".

Names, of course, connote the very opposite of commonality. The name identifies, individualizes, distinguishes. This is especially true in the Torah, where names are given to individuals and places to express their unique characteristics and identify their specific function and role.

Throughout the long and bitter galut of Egypt, G‑d kept loving watch over both these faces of Israel. He counted the quintessence of our being, the indestructible core of the Jewish soul. And He named the growing thousands of expressions of this essence, as translated into thousands and then millions of individual lives.